Army veteran Stephan Wolfert will present “Cry Havoc,” the story of his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder during performances and workshops that begin tonight at Fort Greely and continue into the weekend in Fairbanks. Wolfert’s a classically trained actor who says he found relief from PTSD on stage, especially when performing Shakespeare.
“Now is the winter of our discontent …”
That’s the opening line from Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” the story of the conniver who became King of England after murdering and imprisoning his rivals. It’s not an uplifting story, but Stephan Wolfert says seeing it at a low point in his life helped inspire him to pick up the pieces, turn himself around and tell his story, on stage.
“It’s a personal journey from being in the military, having a horrific experience after the first Gulf War was over – a buddy of mine was killed in training at Fort Irwin, California. I lost it – I can say that now – I didn’t know what was going on,” he said in an interview with New York public-radio member station WSKG.
Wolfert says when he saw the show, he was suffering from PTSD and an old injury that had flared up. The then-24-year-old Army Reserve medic had been activated during the Gulf War and was training to become an Infantry officer when he saw “Richard III” on a stopover in Montana during a crosscountry train ride.
“It changed my life,” he told the interviewer. “I left the Army and went to graduate school for acting. And in graduate school, working on these plays and doing classical actor training, I started realizing all the stuff that was inside me. And the classical actor training as well as Shakespeare helped me to heal the trauma that was in my body from both childhood trauma as well as military trauma.”
Wolfert says Shakespearean works about war helped him understand the trauma that afflicted him and countless other servicemembers. He took the title of his one-man show, “Cry Havoc!,” from Mark Antony’s soliloquy in “Julius Caesar.” The term refers to a directive given by military commanders to wage total war.
“It’s an order, a command, to throw out the rules of war,” he said.
Wolfert draws parallels between havoc and the intensive warfighting training that U.S. combat soldiers get. He says the U.S. military’s training on how to transition from being a warrior back to being a citizen is inadequate. And he thinks that contributes to today’s epidemic of PTSD.
“We get trained as soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to learn how to unleash our berserker, and to bring havoc,” he said. “But we’re never un-trained from that. We’re never re-training to un-wire from war.”
“Cry Havoc’s” message resonated with Jody Hassel, the executive director of Blossom House Healing Arts, a collective of therapists and other practitioners in downtown Fairbanks.
“Seeing Stephan Wolfert’s show made it clear to me that the veteran’s story is not just for veterans. It’s for all of us,” Hassel said in an interview Monday.
Hassel says when she saw the show last year in Boston, it helped her realize the plight of those suffering from PTSD. And it moved her to reach out to all the community’s servicemembers.
“I felt personally connected in a way that I had not before, in terms of our healing, in terms of our pain, in terms of our stories as a nation, as a small community here in Fairbanks, with active-duty military a part of our community,” she said.
Hassel says she pitched the idea to the Fairbanks Concert Association of bringing Wolfert to Fairbanks to tell his story. They agreed, and along with other organizations – including Blossom House, 4-H Military & Outreach Programs and Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre – they all put together a schedule of free performances and workshops at Fort Greely and Pioneer Park in Fairbanks that will run through Saturday.
Editor's note: Wolfert will conduct a free workshop on PTSD and perform "Cray Havoc!" Wednesday at Fort Greely's Community Activity Center, then two more PTSD workshops in Fairbanks: 6-9 p.m. Thursday in Fairbanks at Turning Point Counseling Center and 1-4 p.m. Friday at the Pioneer Park Dance Hall. He'll also conduct a Shakespearean theatre workshop at the Dance Hall from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The Fairbanks Concert Association will offer two performances of "Cry Havoc" at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, both at Pioneer Park Civic Center Theater